Simple Gardening Tips & Tricks



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Here, the latest tips and tricks from Paul James, host of Gardening by the Yard:

1. To remove the salt deposits that form on clay pots, combine equal parts white vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water in a spray bottle. Apply the mixture to the pot and scrub with a plastic brush. Let the pot dry before you plant anything in it.

2. To prevent accumulating dirt under your fingernails while you work in the garden, draw your fingernails across a bar of soap and you’ll effectively seal the undersides of your nails so dirt can’t collect beneath them. Then, after you’ve finished in the garden, use a nailbrush to remove the soap and your nails will be sparkling clean.

3. To prevent the line on your string trimmer from jamming or breaking, treat with a spray vegetable oil before installing it in the trimmer.

4. Turn a long-handled tool into a measuring stick! Lay a long-handled garden tool on the ground, and next to it place a tape measure. Using a permanent marker, write inch and foot marks on the handle. When you need to space plants a certain distance apart (from just an inch to several feet) you’ll already have a measuring device in your hand.

For more tips like these, visit HGTV.com.

 

3 Home Maintenance Tips for Spring



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After a long, dark winter, spring’s bright sun and warm winds are, well, a breath of fresh air. The only downside? All that sunshine spotlights your leaf-filled gutters, cracked sidewalks and the dead plants in last year’s flower beds. Dwight Barnett, a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors, shared this checklist to help you target the areas that need maintenance so you can get your chores done quickly, leaving you time to go outside and play in the sunshine.

  • Check for loose or leaky gutters. Improper drainage can lead to water in the basement or crawl space. Make sure downspouts drain away from the foundation and are clear and free of debris.
  • Low areas in the yard or next to the foundation should be filled with compacted soil. Spring rains can cause yard flooding, which can lead to foundation flooding and damage. Also, when water pools in these low areas in summer, it creates a breeding ground for insects.
  • Use a screwdriver to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Make repairs now before the spring rains do more damage to the exposed wood.

 

Second Home Insurance Tips



Insurance is going to cost you more on a second home, and there’s a simple reason: You’re not there as much. Here are several tips on how to trim your second-home bill and how to make sure you have enough coverage.

Alarm Systems
A central alarm system that detects both fire and burglaries can cut a quick 20% off the top, insurance salespeople say. A basic system costs around $300 to install, depending on the number of zones and sensors in your system, according to alarm company ADT. Expect to pay $70 and up for service each year.

A Watchful Eye
Owning a home in a gated community warrants a 10% discount. For homes in rural areas, proof that the local fire department has access to a stream, lake or other water source can mean a break of 25%. And while you won’t get a discount for hiring a caretaker, having one will convince some insurance companies that you’re worth the risk when otherwise they’d turn down your business.

Combine and Conquer
Your real estate broker may suggest that you call his local agent for the best rates. But you’re actually better off revisiting the agent who sold you coverage on your first home. By insuring your second home with the same company, you should be able to save 5% to 10%. And if you can get one of the insurance industry’s new “package policies” — which can handle two or three homes, a couple of cars, umbrella liability coverage and even a boat in one document — you’ll do even better.

Condo Issues
If you’re buying a condo instead of a free-standing home, the condo association will provide coverage for the structure. That’s part of your monthly maintenance fee. But you’re responsible for fixtures, appliances in the condo, and typically any kind of improvement, like a gourmet kitchen or whirlpool bath, as well as your own contents and liability.

Umbrella Policies
If you didn’t have an umbrella liability policy before you bought your second home, you have enough assets to warrant one now. An umbrella will extend the liability limits (typically $300,000) on your homeowners, auto and even boat policies for a reasonable sum. Insurance experts recommend a minimum of $1 million in umbrella liability for people who own two homes. That’ll run about $300. For landlords, umbrella policies are especially crucial. If one of your tenant’s clumsy friends breaks an arm diving into your pool, his lawyer may soon be knocking on your door.

Insurance and Landlording
If you rent out your vacation home, you can expect to pay 20% over the cost of ordinary second-home insurance. That’s because you’ll be there even less than most second-home owners and insurers feel your house is at even greater risk. Besides, they argue, no one takes care of a property as well as its owner. But if you’re planning to rent it out a lot, say so. Though it sounds contradictory, some insurers such as Chubb will charge you less if it looks like there will usually be tenants around. An occupied house is less likely to be burglarized or burn to the ground.

Most second-homeowners rent their properties furnished, but if you rent empty, make sure to let your insurer know; you’ll get a break on contents coverage. And if your tenant brings his belongings into your house, he’s on his own. He can’t claim anything under your policy, and although 10% of the contents insurance from his primary residence follows him into a rental, it’s not likely to be enough in a disaster. You might require longer-term tenants to carry renter’s insurance.

 

Air Conditioner Efficiency



Buying a bigger room air-conditioning unit won’t necessarily make you feel more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that’s too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit.

Sizing is equally important for central air-conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don’t use the system’s central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.

Cooling Tips

  • Whole-house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic.
  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The smaller the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.
  • Avoid setting your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.
  • Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.
  • Avoid placing lamps or TV sets near your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.
  • Plant trees or shrubs to shade air conditioning units but not to block the airflow. Place your room air conditioner on the north side of the house. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

 

Be Productive During Air Travel



An interesting article from a recent blog on Almost Fearless.com. This has been a struggle for me all summer.  You show up in Paris, and you can either sit down with your laptop or explore the Latin Quarter.  Guess who wins?  If you’re trying to balance travel and work (for me, writing) you might find it harder than you thought.  Pre-trip, I imagined cranking out thousands of words per day while sipping espresso in a cafe.  In reality, I found myself sitting on the floor in the hotel lobby, trying to squeeze out 500 words before catching my next flight.  It took me a while to come up with a system, but here are some of the tips for working on the fly.

1.  Know yourself.
You don’t have time to be unproductive, so don’t try to force your work habits into someone else’s ideal.  For me, that means working late at night.  My husband, is a morning a person and in bed by midnight.  It’s not unusual for me to work until 3 in the morning, because this is my most productive time.  If you find yourself slogging through work and easily distracted, try cutting those hours out and focusing on the times when working comes easily.

2.  Use travel time for easy tasks. Part of my work as a writer is to read.  I read blogs, travel magazines, books on writing, travel memoirs, anything I can devour that will either a)  tune me into current travel trends or b) help my writing by exposing me to the good stuff.  I use those countless hours flying, driving, ferrying or just waiting when you travel to catch up on as much reading as possible.  I will even download articles to my laptop for reading when I’m offline.  If you’re just sitting there, chances are you can work on something (even if it’s writing to-do lists).

3.  Use your days between trips to catch up (or get ahead).
I tried to schedule a few days or a week between trips, just so I could spend full days working.  After failing at this a few times, the incentive to not spending the next trip worrying about how far behind you are, is an amazing motivator to get serious on your days off.

4.  Give yourself a break. I didn’t write about it here, because I was too beat.  But in Croatia I was just worn out.  I couldn’t write my name of if you beat it out of me.  So I took 1 day off.  I sat in a cafe all day and did nothing people watch and read my book.  I went to bed early.  I so needed this break, but up until I crashed, I was pushing so hard that I was barely productive.  When you’re body needs rest, don’t fight it.  You’ll be twice as productive after a good day off, you won’t actually lose any traction.

5.  Cut out the things you can. I would love to spend more time promoting my work or commenting on the smart, funny or amazing things my colleagues write.  I will get back to it, but when you’re on the road, there simply isn’t time for everything.

6.  Create systems.
Figure out ways to minimize your time doing any specific task.  Check email once a day, or keep a notebook with your for ideas, or track your tasks in a spreadsheet or only write while off-line (eliminates distractions).  Everyone has their own ways of working, but find those that work best for you and stick to them.

7.  Be organized. Nothing will waste time faster than trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do.  I keep my inbox clean of clutter, have specific folders for projects and even a naming convention for my photos.  It’s a pain to always put things where they belong, but a blessing when you don’t have spend 10 minutes searching your hard drive for that photo you took last week.

 

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